Thursday, April 30, 2015

Car Review: 2015 Kia Optima Hybrid

Overview: The Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient Optima you can buy
Pros:Sharp-looking exterior and stylish interior, excellent highway cruiser, relatively good fuel economy
Cons: Unrefined braking, numb steering, clumsy gas-electric system
Value for money: Good
What would I change? Swap in one of Kia’s excellent diesels they sell in Europe
How would I spec it? I’d get the more refined and fun-to-drive Optima SX Turbo

Thank high fuel prices and stricter government-mandated fuel economy ratings for today’s variety of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. Once limited to being quirky little cars when they arrived in the late 1990s (think first-gen Toyota Prius or Honda Insight), hybrids now come in all shapes and sizes, including family sedans like this 2015 Kia Optima.

When it was introduced for 2011, the mid-size, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive Optima sedan was one of the first signals that Kia was becoming a serious contender to more established automakers. Stylish, feature-laden, and well made with excellent road manners, topline gas-engine Optimas have become legitimate alternatives to low-end versions of the entry-level luxury/sport sedans like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.

The hybrid version of the Optima arrived in late 2011, and it quickly found favour with buyers. Combined with sales of its Hyundai Sonata Hybrid platform-mate, the two family sedans ranked only behind the Toyota Prius in the hybrid sales race for 2011 in the U.S.

In 2013, a new electric motor added more horsepower. Combined with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder gas engine, output rose to 199 horsepower, and a higher-capacity lithium-polymer battery pack pumped the torque rating up to 235 pound-feet. The bigger battery also allowed for the Optima Hybrid to be driven up to 100 kilometres per hour in full electric mode via its six-speed automatic transmission. Then, for 2014, the Kia hybrid sedan received a slight design update, with new LED running lights and tail lights and front-end styling that was said to improve aerodynamics.

As you might expect, Kia has priced its 2015 Optima Hybrid competitively with rivals like its Sonata partner as well as hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion sedans. Well-equipped (highlighted by a multi-functional, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power driver’s seat, heated front seats and side mirrors, rear-view camera and Kia’s UVO infotainment system) base model Optima Hybrids start at $31,630 (all prices include freight and pre-delivery inspection fees). My Optima Hybrid tester was the topline, $38,230 EX Premium model. Going that route adds a bunch of goodies including a larger infotainment touchscreen, navigation, leather seats (that can be cooled and heated up front), rear parking sensors, plus a full suite of safety kit including blind-spot detection.

All of that ongoing engineering work has resulted in the Optima Hybrid posting fuel economy estimates of 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 6.7 on the highway. During my week in the Kia sedan, at the tail end of a long and cold winter, I saw an indicated 7.4 L/100 km. But in a previous test in warmer weather, I recorded a 6.5 L/100 km average, which is pretty respectable for a mid-sized sedan.

Compared to the $26,190 Optima LX’s 192-hp naturally aspirated 2.4L gas engine (10.2 L/100 km city; 6.9 highway) and $36,290 SX Turbo’s 274-hp, 2.0L turbocharged gas-four (11.7 city; 7.7 highway) the Hybrid is obviously the Optima to buy if you want to burn less fossil fuel. But with gas versions of the new, second-generation 2016 Optima set to go on sale later this fall, we don’t expect the hybrid versions until well into 2016. So if you’re in the market for a hybrid family sedan, should you wait until then or consider a 2015 model now?

The answer to this depends on what your priorities are.

From what I saw of the pre-production 2016 models at the New York Auto Show, the interior of the forthcoming 2016 Optima is more about refinement than revolution. I’ve always liked the current Optima’s driver-oriented interior design and ergonomics. My top-rung EX Premium model saw leather applied thoughtfully to all the surfaces the driver touches on a regular basis. And the stitched, padded dashboard and massive UVO touchscreen infotainment make the family sedan feel more luxurious than its price suggests.

However, where I am hoping Kia will make more progress with the next Optima Hybrid is with its limited cargo capacity (caused by the battery pack in the trunk) compared to the gas versions, and how its gas-electric system behaves on the road.

The interaction between the Kia’s hybrid bits — toggling between the electric and gas modes and the regenerative braking system — show the automaker’s lack of hybrid powertrain experience. Starting off from a stop, there’s a slight hesitation from the Optima Hybrid’s engine department. And once underway, the engine revs up then down a bit, without any indication of a change from the speedometer. Weird.

Stopping the Kia hybrid is also a touchy affair. The regenerative braking system (which sends energy back to charge the batteries), grabs too much when the brakes are initially applied at lower spends. Once again, areas of refinement Toyota and Ford have already nailed down. Once up to speed, though, the Optima offers a fine highway ride, with an eerily quiet cabin.

As much as I like the 2015 Optima Hybrid’s exterior and interior styling, and its relatively parsimonious fuel economy, drivers may find its unrefined hybrid bits off-putting. But knowing Kia’s relentless pursuit of improving, I’m expecting big improvements with the next-gen Optima Hybrid.

The Specs

Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive midsize hybrid sedan
Engine: 2.4L four-cylinder gas engine + electric motor
Power: 199 hp @ 5,500 rpm; 235 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires: P225/50R17
Price: (base/as tested) $30,095/$38,230
Destination charge: $1,395
Natural Resources: Canada fuel economy (L/100 km) 6.1 city; 6.7 highway; 7.4 as-tested
Standard equipment: Multi-functional either-wrapped steering wheel, leather shift knob, power leather heated/cooled front seats with memory, Infinity premium audio system, heated power side mirrors, 8-inch Multimedia Interface voice-activated navigation, blind-spot detection system, rear parking sensors, and more.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2016 Kia Sorento Earns Five-Star Safety Rating From Federal Government

The all-new 2016 Kia Sorento SUV earned the top five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The 2016 Sorento received five stars in the front and side crash tests and four stars in the rollover crash test.

The rating applies to front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions of the Sorento, which is on sale now at Kia dealerships.

Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. Optional safety features include lane-departure warning, forward collision warning and blind-spot detection systems.

The 2016 Sorento earned the 2015 Top Safety Pick Award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, receiving "good"scores in all tests.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Current Trend: Kia Soul Goes Electric For 2015

Like a desperate team in the final seconds, time was running out one afternoon in my 2015 Kia Soul EV.

Heading home from a racetrack in South Florida, the remaining charge on the plug-in electric Soul was shrinking by the minute. Five percent, it said. I looked down a minute later: I flatlined the son-of-a-gun.

But the Soul kept creeping along. C'mon, two more miles! I reduced speed to 45 mph, shut off the air, and the icy blue Kia Soul EV took its last breath in my driveway. Good thing, since a can of gas on the roadside would have been worthless to me.

Such is the life of an EV driver: Always know the battery's remaining charge and, more important, where the next one is coming from. Fortunately, Kia's UVO communications platform can tell you exactly where the nearest charging stations are. Unfortunately, you'll need to find something to do while waiting for the "fill-up." More on that momentarily.
The Kia Soul EV is the latest of the plug-in electric vehicles to quietly hum down the road. And, to its credit, it has greater range than most of them (EPA-estimated 93 miles) and more cargo capacity, too.

Moving the front-wheel-drive, 4-door hatchback down the road is an 81 kW motor that delivers 109 hp and 210 pound-feet of torque - which is available right from the get-go. The motor is energized by a 27 kWh (kilowatt hour) lithium ion battery pack.

Keeping that pack charged is your job and it takes a while - 24 hours for a full charge - if you're plugging into conventional 120-volt household current. If you have, or can find, 240-volt current, you can trim that time down to 5 hours.

And if you're on a road trip (not highly recommended), you'd better keep an eye out for Kia dealerships, where you can usually find a 480-volt source that reportedly will pump you up to 80 percent in 33 minutes. A regenerative braking system also helps recharge the battery whenever it decelerates - when is the last time you heard stop-and-go driving is a good thing?

Since most will plug in at home, it helps to have a garage to leave it in overnight. Bright blue lights on top of the dash will monitor the charging and, while parked in the driveway, it provided a light show on the front of my house - too much attention. I figure it's just a matter of time before the charging cable, which looks like a small fuel pump, goes missing.

On the plus side, the flashing blue light makes it easy to glance out your bedroom window and see how the charge is going.

The cable, by the way, plugs neatly into a port behind a sliding panel in front of the car. A second port accommodates the 480-volt supercharge.

The EPA says the Soul EV will use 32 kWh per 100 miles of travel, which is consistent with the rest of the EV gang (think Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf and Volkswagen e-Golf).

So what's this overgrown golf cart like to drive? Surprisingly nice. It's a quiet, comfortable ride with just enough wind noise make you forget there's no internal combustion engine. In other words, it's not overly quiet.

It takes a leisurely 10 seconds to hit 60 - this ain't no Tesla - and don't get daring in the passing lane. But once up to speed on the highway it holds a steady, comfortable pace.

The EV tranny has only one speed so there's no upshifting or downshifting issues. Steering is short on feedback but the Soul has a nimble feel. Handling is enhanced by the low-riding, heavy battery pack under rear-seat floor.

On the minus side, that battery pack robs rear-seat riders of some head and leg room.

But there is still good cargo space, considering some battery packs steal that, too. In the Soul, there are 18.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 49.5 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. Further, lift out the cargo floor and it opens up another 11 cubic feet.

The interior has the same quality materials found in the regular Soul plus a few touches of its own, like white-gloss plastic trim around the shifter and its own instrument grouping with big numerals showing the charge status. An 8-inch touchscreen shows power flow and offers charging locations - just press on it and it'll direct you to them.

Yet some from the gas-engine Soul didn't make the trip to the EV: no sunroof available, no xenon headlights and no power seats. These are missing due to their battery-sapping desires.

The five-seat Soul comes in two trims, the base and Plus. The base gets 16-inch alloys wheels, auto headlights and climate. Tech features include Bluetooth, 6-speaker audio with iPod/USB interface and voice controls, navigation and rear-view camera (needed with this boxy design).

Among the added goodies in the Plus are leather seats, fog lights and parking sensors.

Coming in at approximately twice the price (without any credits applied), the Kia Soul EV makes going green a little hard to digest. That's if you can come up with one; the EVs are available only in California now, though Kia promises it will expand to some but not all states.

But, with 90-plus miles of range, running all the errands around town without flat-lining the sucker should be an unpolluted breeze.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Kia Sportage Used Review | 2010-2013

Kia has come on gangbusters in recent years, the quality and refinement of its current cars has lifted it out of the value-for-money rut in which it was once stuck. No longer are cars like the Sportage the ones you punt on when you can't afford something better; they're now cars you can buy with confidence and pride.


The transformation of the Sportage, Kia's compact SUV, was complete with the launch of the third generation model in 2010.

As an SUV that's going to be used around town the Sportage ticks all the boxes. It rides high for a good view of the road, has sufficient cabin space to cart an average family, and it has the rugged good looks that so appeals to today's townies.

Being a compact SUV the cabin is adequate rather than spacious, but it will carry five adults, even if the centre rear passenger will find it a little squeezy. The cabin is a pleasant place to be, the presentation is modern, the switches and controls are well placed and easy to use.

Each of the three models, from the base Si to the range-topping Platinum is well equipped with just about everything you could want. Bluetooth was one omission, but that was introduced in 2011.

The Si entry model was two-wheel drive only and it came with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a choice of five-speed manual or six-speed sports-shifting auto.

The SLi and Platinum had on-demand all-wheel drive, there was a choice of 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine or 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, but the only transmission you could have was the six-speed sports-shifting automatic.

On the road the 2.0-litre engine was adequate rather than thrilling, and the economy was average for the class. Being slightly more powerful the larger 2.4-litre engine performed a little better, but it was the turbo-diesel that was the best of the bunch with the strongest pull and the lowest consumption.

The ride and handling was best suited to town roads where most Sportages will see duty, but the on-demand all-wheel drive set-up is capable of handling bush roads. It's not designed for heavy off-road use, and it is ultimately limited by ground clearance and suspension travel.


Kia's quality has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, which is reflected by the very low number of complaints. Most owners we speak to say they are happy with their cars, including the Sportage, and would happily recommend them to prospective buyers.

While there are few issues to report on the third generation Sportage it must be emphasised that it is still very early in the overall lifespan of the model, and it's always possible that issues could develop as the kays climb.

When buying think of the road ahead and check for a service record that shows your prospective purchase has been properly maintained. Servicing is the key to a long and reliable life for any car, but it's even more important with today's high-tech cars that are being built to ever tightening tolerances.

Kia specifies service intervals of 15,000 km or 12 months, which is pretty much industry standard, but grizzled old-timers would insist that's much too long. They would recommend intervals of 10,000 km.

The good news is that all Kia engines since 2010 have cam timing chains rather than pesky belts, so there's no call for regular belt changes.



Hard to fault, should be high on SUV shopper's lists.

Kia Sportage 2010-2013
Price new: $25,990 to $38,990
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 104 kW/184 Nm; 2.4-litre 4-cyl, 130 kW/227 Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel, 103 kW/304 Nm
Transmission: 5-speed man, 6-speed sports auto, FWD, On-demand 4WD
Economy: 8 L/100 km (2.0), 9.2 L/100 km (2.4), 7.1 L/100 km (TD)
Body: 5-door wagon
Variants: Si, SLi, Platinum
Safety: 5-star ANCAP
Expect to pay:
$13,500 to $21,000 for the Si
$19,000 to $26,500 for the SLi
$19,500 to $30,000 for the Platinum